Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:14a “If you’re willing to accept it,. . .”
The crowd was obstinate. Jesus knew they would disagree with what He was about to say. God’s truth can be appropriated only when heard by a receptive human will. The words of Jesus are ineffective unless hearers respond properly.
Matt. 11:14b “. . .he (John the Baptist) is the Elijah who is to come.”
In the last prediction written by the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, God promised, “I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes” (4:5). The Jews, chafing under the yoke of Rome, began to interpret this promise literally. They believed Elijah would rise from the dead. Israel hoped the great Old Testament prophet, who had powerful success against the political powers of his day, would return and repeat it again.
Many doubted John the Baptist was the predicted Elijah. John’s ministry had been spiritual, not political, and instead of casting off Rome, he was in prison.
John bluntly denied he was the Elijah the people were looking for (JN 1:21). Jesus agreed, but plainly stated John was the Elijah the Old Testament predicted.
The angel Gabriel told Zechariah his son John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (LK 1:17). Similarities between Elijah and John were uncanny.
They were alike in personality and function. In times of terrible national wickedness, both seemed to come out of nowhere, from the desert in Transjordan.
Elijah and John were fiery and in your face, gaunt and grim, ascetic and solitary. Each wrestled against a wicked king, Ahab and Herod, and suffered at the hands of evil queens, Jezebel and Herodias. Both flamed a backslidden nation.
The two souls were knit. Their voices, thundering repentance, echoed to each other across centuries. O that God would raise up a generation of trumpets like them for our day. A dearth of manly courage has befallen today’s preachers.
Despite being God’s man, John’s role was misjudged by the people. They yearned for Messiah to be political. They expected the same from His forerunner.
God’s people still struggle with maintaining a proper balance between the spiritual and the political. We must avoid two extremes. First, don’t overestimate politics. Revival will come neither on Air Force One nor from Congress or the Supreme Court. Revival comes from God to His people, and then reverberates to halls of political power. Politicians usually reflect, more than affect, the populace.
Second, don’t underestimate politics. Government cannot bring revival, but we should not therefore forsake it. It is still God-ordained, and thus important.
In parts of the world, Bible believers have totally given up on religion influencing politics. A decade ago, my dad and brother, on a mission trip to Russia to help train pastors, included in their displays small USA and Christian flags. The Russian pastors were horrified that anything as pure as the kingdom of God would in any way ever be identified with anything as impure as a political government. They took the USA flags home as souvenirs of freedom, but in no way wanted religion and government to intermingle. They were persecuted 70 years by government. We understand, though we don’t agree with, their reticence.
In the UK, long free, I encountered a similar, albeit gentler, attitude toward government. Conservative Christians had essentially given up on ever affecting politics. They deemed it totally secular and wicked, beyond any hope of change.
I fear a similar attitude is growing in our own country. When Christians vote, if they take time to do so, spiritual considerations often are not primary, in fact, not considered. Too often we vote thinking as unbelievers do (a red flag in itself), caring only about earthly matters, stock market, economy, IRAs, defense, social and recreational issues, etc. I grieve at the number of Christians who vote selfishly, deciding all that matters is what’s good for me, my four, and no more.
Believing politics is too dirty for Christians to be involved in is wrong. Governments, ordained by our God, should hugely matter to God’s people.
To think we have no hope of influencing government is unfortunate. I’m glad Daniel, Jeremiah, Nathan, Isaiah, and Elijah did not feel that way.
The ballot is a significant way believers can be salt and light in a decaying world. We need to vote. By all means, vote. But do not cast your ballot thinking as the lost do. Spiritual concerns should top our list of considerations: abortion, homosexuality, marriage, gambling, the poor, racial equality, religious freedom.
First pray over these issues. Then cast your ballot, not merely as the civic duty of a true patriot, but also as an act of worship from a true believer.
Jesus tried to help people confused over the interplay between politics and religion. Perplexities continue. It behooves us all to be humble in this discussion.
Matt. 11:15 “Anyone who has ears should listen.”
Jesus used this expression 15 times to warn people, to say it’s time to take notice, to discard distractions. Focus. Listen carefully. What I’m about to say is a serious matter, highly important, of utmost urgency. Take it to heart.
Jesus was saying “Hear ye! Hear ye! Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” It’s like when Mom called me John Edward. If I heard my middle name, it was time to hop to it. Dad accomplished the same by simply waving the end of his belt at me.
In military terms, our text would say “Attention!” This first order soldiers hear after they fall in means “Listen! Be ready for the next order, it’s important.”
It is possible to hear, yet not hear. My children tried to get my attention at church by saying, “Dad.” I sometimes did not respond. After a time of frustration, they would finally say, “Dr. Marshall,” to which I would immediately answer.
We all excel at selective hearing, as when a clock chimes, but we’ve heard it so often that we don’t hear it, or are so engrossed in something we miss it entirely.
Jesus was saying, you have ears to hear, primarily for the purpose of hearing spiritual truths. We were formed by nature to hear and assimilate God’s words.
We are thus accountable to do so. It’s easy to hear with the ear, yet fail to grasp truth in the heart. “Listen, not with that outward ear only, that gristle that grows upon the head” (Trapp). May sounds that penetrate the ear pierce the heart.
Is our ear a channel through which God’s words often travel to our heart? If not, what a waste of ears. Every faculty we possess was given to us that we might use them for God; eyes to see His work and read His Word; minds to determine His truth; ears to hear His message; hands to serve; feet to go; hearts to worship.
Our five senses were made by God to be stimulated. Since they are physical and earthly, they by nature tend to prefer physical and earthly stimulations.
Making room to prioritize spiritual stimulation requires extra thought and effort from us. Thus, Jesus says, “Attention! Spiritual concerns matter most.”
What stimulations we allow our senses to receive most, what we spend the most time indulging ourselves in, reveal to us what our heart actually loves most.
Our text is a wake up call from Jesus. Governments, politics, and all other fleshly, earthly concerns will pass away. Only the spiritual is eternal. Take note. Listen. Spirituality happens not automatically, but by determined concentration.
Refusal to hear aright leaves devastation in its wake. For unbelievers, it leads to eternity apart from God. For believers, it leads to a wasted life.
There are only two categories in life, the temporary and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. We need to focus more on the latter, less on the former.
Only two days matter on the calendar, this day and that day. We have only the present moment, this fragile second in which we live, to be responding properly to the final moment, the fragile second in which we will be judged.
When God created matter, from which human bodies are formed, He also created time. The two are interrelated. The clock is ticking for the flesh. Our earthly existence is like an hour-glass. Fewer sands are left to run than there were.
Every heartbeat reduces our allotted number by one. “We ought always to feel we are mortal; it should be to us a garment we never shake off” (Spurgeon).
Seeing a mansion and its gardens, one said, “These are the things that make it hard to die.” Our text would add, earthly stimulations also make it hard to hear.